When Greeks first settled in the New World — and New York City, in particular — Astoria wasn’t their first neighborhood of choice. In fact, today’s densely populated neighborhoods of Queens were actually considered “the country” by New Yorkers in the early 1900s and much of the area was covered in farmland.
Most early Greek immigrants settled in the Lower East Side, Hells Kitchen and other Manhattan neighborhoods.
It wasn’t until the 1960s and the 10 years following the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that Astoria started to develop as “Greektown USA.”
Strict quotas were set in the early 1920s on the number of Greeks and other ethnicities that were allowed to emigrate to the United States. Numbers remained low between 1921 and 1965, when the U.S. government had imposed a “national origins” formula to limit the influex of Greeks, Italians and other “undesirable” Southern and Eastern Europeans.
But the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 changed that, allowing for increased numbers of all immigrants. More than a decade after that legislation, nearly 150,000 Greeks had immigrated to the U.S., most settling in NYC.
At that time, Astoria saw a huge influx of Greek immigrants. By the end of the 1960s, the Queens neighborhood had the world’s largest population of Greeks outside of Greece itself.
Although the community may not be at its peak as it was in the 1960s and 70s, as many of the “old timers” remember, U.S. Census statistics from 2012 prove that Greek is still the predominant language in the neighborhood.
The American Community Survey is a massive annual effort by the Census Bureau to measure various aspects of American life. Among other questions, respondents are asked if they speak a non-English language at home and (if so) what language it is.
Because Spanish shows up in so many neighborhoods (including Astoria), as the predominant language, the map below shows the most common non-English, non-Spanish language in each NYC neighborhood.
Most commonly spoken language in each neighborhood (non-English/Spanish)
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